An Education in Beauty: Saint Turibius Chapel Renovation at the Pontifical College Josephinum

The Pontifical College Josephinum, designed by Saint Louis architect Francis A. Ludewig and completed in 1931. Photo credit: flickr.com/Eridony
The Pontifical College Josephinum, designed by Saint Louis architect Francis A. Ludewig and completed in 1931. Photo credit: flickr.com/Eridony

On a lovely October afternoon I rode with William Burleigh to the Pontifical College Josephinum, he for the meeting of the board of trustees, and I to see the newly renovated and rededicated chapel of Saint Turibius. I had taught there for a year in the mid-seventies and I remember the chapel as a dark and unattractive sacred space that was rarely used, since there were other chapels at the seminary.

Named after the sainted bishop of Lima, as the first saint of the New World, the chapel was dominated by the 1936 mural behind the altar. It had become discolored by many leaks and in a post-Vatican II renovation, was completely covered over in an antiseptic scheme that ignored the early Gothic charm of the chapel.

Saint Turibius Chapel after the mural by Gerhard Lamers was covered over. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect
Saint Turibius Chapel after the mural by Gerhard Lamers was covered over. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect

The Pontifical College began as an orphanage for those of German extraction in 1875, founded by Father Joseph Jessy. A few of the boys expressed a desire to be priests and when Father Jessy put a notice in a German-American newspaper, twenty-three young men applied. Trusting in Providence, he began a college seminary in 1888. And in 1892 he asked Pope Leo XIII to put it directly under papal oversight and the pope granted the request. Seven years later now-Monsignor Jessy died, having founded the only pontifical seminary in the United States.

In 1931, the college moved to its present site in the countryside north of Columbus, Ohio. I remember it in this country setting from when I taught there. Now, it sits in a mostly urban mix of highways and malls, but it still has spacious grounds with trees and vistas that showcase the noble brick Gothic structure designed by the Saint Louis architect Francis A. Ludewig. The chapel was the heart of the building and its apse covered with a floor to ceiling mural of Christ in glory attended by saints and angels, painted by Gerhard Lamers.

Enveloped by Light

When one enters the chapel, one feels enveloped by light. The Emil Frei windows are mostly white glass with liturgical symbols, letting in light that plays off the mural and the chaste early Gothic stonework.

View of the renovated interior of the chapel. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect
View of the renovated interior of the chapel. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect

EverGreene Studios created a new mural based on the 1936 Lamers original, but there are some changes. The centerpiece of the frieze halfway up the mural used to be Saint Turibius ordaining a priest. Now it is Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom. She is flanked by Saints Joseph, Turibius, Rose of Lima, Catherine of Siena, John Neumann, Gregory the Great, Vincent de Paul, and Blessed Miguel Pro. Above them is Christ, the high priest robed in gold, offering communion, while the Father’s hand pours the Holy Spirit upon him. The whole heavenly vision is surrounded by myriads of angels, whose wings add a celestial splendor.

William Heyer, the present architect, pointed out all this to me as we walked through the chapel examining its many details: the altar of sacrifice and the place of reservation behind it; the choir stalls modelled after the originals; the more traditional choir plan for the sanctuary; the beautiful marble and porcelain floor tile and the increased seating in the nave.

The altar arrangement particularly caught my attention. Beautifully fashioned from different marbles, the altar is freestanding, as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#299) requires. Relics are in an exquisite cask under the altar and can be seen from the back. The six candlesticks are mildly baroque. The GIRM (#303) favors one altar in new churches. Often in an old church, a new altar facing the people is set up in front of the old high altar. While this solution may be desirable when the old altar is a work of art, the symbolism of the one Eucharist celebrated at the one altar is lost, when one sees two altars side by side.

William Heyer sees the place of reservation as a gradine, a kind of extension of the altar and not another altar. Pope Pius XII warned against separating the tabernacle from the altar and here the two are in harmony, symbolizing the sacrifice of the altar and the abiding presence thereafter.

One thing that would have rejoiced the hearts of J. B. O’Connell and Maurice Lavanoux, of Liturgical Art fame, was the tester over the tabernacle sprung from the dorsal in a rich red brocade, the pattern of which is repeated on the dorsal of Our Lady’s throne in the mural. The crucifix from the old chapel complements the risen Christ in the mural above in depicting the Paschal Mystery. The tabernacle is from the old chapel as well.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, and Christ the High Priest are surrounded by saints and angels in the new mural covering the back wall of the apse. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, and Christ the High Priest are surrounded by saints and angels in the new mural covering the back wall of the apse. Photo credit: William Heyer Architect


The Heavenly Liturgy

Anyone assisting at Mass in Saint Turibius Chapel would, it seems to me, experience something of the heavenly dimension of the liturgy. When the Lord is made present in His timeless eternal sacrifice, has Heaven come to earth or are we somewhat transposed to Heaven?

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, states that in the earthly liturgy we take part in the “foretaste of that Heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the Heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord, venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them, we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our Life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory” (#8). I quoted that passage at length because I think that is what the light playing on the great mural of the Heavenly Liturgy gives us.

This same Constitution makes provision for the artistic training of seminarians. They should be taught sacred art history so as to be able to appreciate and preserve the ancient monuments of the Church and guide artists working for the Church (#129). While the first point is important, I think the last is particularly important. It is true that terrible acts of vandalism and iconoclasm have been committed: marble altars destroyed, good statues pulled down, fine murals painted over. Still it is necessary that artists and architects be guided by knowledgeable priests for the future churches that are to be built and decorated.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis, after treating the beauty of the Mass as an echo of the Transfiguration (#35), goes on to expound how seminarians can learn from the Via Pulchritudinis, the Way of Beauty. He says that a solid knowledge of the history of sacred art can help those who are responsible for commissioning artists and architects to create works of art for the liturgy. It is essential that the education of clerics include the study of art history with a special reference to sacred buildings. All aspects of liturgy should be beautiful so as to foster awe for the majesty of God and manifest the unity of faith and strengthen devotion (#41).

Considering the many courses that are required for seminary training, both texts, I suspect, are more honored in the breach than in practice. While they clearly should be implemented, I submit that praying each day in the chapel of Saint Turibius that Francis Ludewig created and William Heyer creatively restored will have its own quiet educational effect.

The Ancient Beauty

Our spirits rise with good sacred architecture and are brought down by the church “of the lowered ceiling.” Our spirits rejoice in Heavenly vistas with colorful saints and angels who pray with us; we can lay our cares on the altar in union with Christ’s sacrifice, that altar surrounded by the glow of candles symbolizing the Light of Christ. As we experience Christ’s presence in the golden tabernacle, we are lifted up by the “Ancient Beauty ever New.”

Beauty heals and strengthens us, and as one participates in the timeless eternal sacrifice in such a wonderful chapel, one is refreshed. The Josephinum is to be congratulated in restoring such a marvelous sacred space and William Heyer for having carried out the restoration so well and sensitively.

Reverend Giles Dimock, O.P., S.T.D., studied liturgy at Notre Dame and at Sant’ Anselmo, and theology at the Angelicum in Rome. He has taught at Providence College, Franciscan University in Steubenville, the Angelicum and the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.